Katahdin region seeks community grant

Posted April 30, 2010, at 9:47 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:01 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Jason Bird feels like he’s off to a good start.

Since becoming the Katahdin region’s part-time community and business development specialist in February, the 26-year-old Eastern Maine Development Corp. worker has met with more than 30 regional entrepreneurs and worked to help them improve or prepare to launch businesses, he said.

“We are not going out and trying to find the next employer of 1,000 people,” Bird said Friday. “We are going door-to-door, business-to-business to see what their needs are. I think the towns are happy with what I am doing, just being a stickler for showing up and following up with what I have promised.”

The Katahdin Area Recovery and Expansion Committee agrees with Bird’s assessment. KARE informally agreed this week to seek a $10,000 Community Development Block Grant through EMDC, to which KARE would add $2,500, Medway Administrative Assistant Kathy Lee said.

If won, the grant will pay for another six months of Bird’s one-day-a-week visits to the region and other work, he said.

KARE will hold a meeting at the East Millinocket town office at 5:30 p.m. May 10 to decide whether to pursue the grant and whether to formally approve allocating $2,500 in matching funds. Katahdin region residents are invited to attend the meeting and a public hearing at 6 p.m., Lee said.

The grant application deadline is May 14, Lee said.

Bird’s present contract expires on June 30. A portion of the $75,000 that Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. pays the region annually as compensation for the shutdown of the Brookfield-owned Millinocket mill in 2008 has funded his efforts and will provide the $2,500.

KARE board members Mark Scally and Jim Federico opposed the application, Scally said. They do not fault Bird’s work but believe the application is coming too soon.

“To me it’s like buying a car and putting pinstripes on it before you’ve even turned on the ignition,” Scally said. “I am not saying this is not going to work out, but I think it’s premature.”

Scally said he believes that several Millinocket board members “rammed through” the hiring of Bird and the decision to seek the grant. He found that ironic, given their opposition to some previous area economic development efforts.

“These guys,” Scally said in reference to economic development agents, “can only do so much.”

Millinocket Town Council Chairman Scott Gonya said trying for the grant is worthwhile.

“It gives us $12,500 to put toward this individual,” Gonya said. “It appears to me that we are getting something out of him and it would be beneficial. We have only done it for three months, so I would rather give it a full test and then another seven months before we assess whether this is worthwhile.”

Anyone seeking to locate a business in the Katahdin region or to get help for one there may contact Bird at jbird@emdc.org, 942-6389 or toll free at 800-339-6389.

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